THE FOREIGN RATIONAL

The world as seen through the eyes of a life-long nomad

It’s been a rough few months for a lot of us. I could list off a bunch of reasons, but you all know what I’m talking about. 

And if you don’t, if everything’s just going swimmingly, stop reading this article. Just go do whatever it is that’s making your life a blast. I have nothing of value to contribute to your existence, nor any good reason to take up your time. 

For those who are still here, there are some thoughts I’d like to run by you. Some important things I figured out during lock down, that actually got me to not mind being in isolation for the foreseeable future.

My epiphany actually started with a horrifying realization: Just because there’s coronavirus doesn’t mean I get to press pause on life.

Novelty doesn’t equate to happiness

I’ve previously written about how being under lock down with a lack of new stimuli speeds up our perception of time. At this point in our socially non interactive lives, who hasn’t at least once thought, “How is it already (Wednesday? August? 2025?)!”

I’ve seen many people suggest implementing a relaxing routine. While routines can help reduce the stress of our challenging times, they are actually counterproductive for time perception. Doing the same thing every day makes life go by even faster. 

Instead, the suggestion I put forward at the time was creative novelty. Every day, try to do something you’ve never done before. 

That worked pretty well for a while, but it wasn’t quite enough. I did feel like I had regained some control over time, but trying out new things wasn’t exactly making me happier. I set out on a quest to figure out why.

I started subtracting activities from my daily routine until I found what was weighing me down. It didn’t take long. The dead weight tugging on my mood was my obsession with the news. 

Staying clear of the line

I used to consume news pretty much all day every day. I would wake up and check developments in the spread of the pandemic, the development of a vaccine, how different countries were responding in different ways, and so on. 

As the day went by, I would move on to politics. I’d see what Trump was up to, social unrest in the United States, the newest thinking on systemic racism and social injustice, societal trends, that kind of thing. 

By mid-afternoon, I would have already read and watched more than what was necessary for me to qualify as a well-informed citizen. With no new updates on the issues I needed to know about, I would move on to ruminating over second-rate opinion pieces, getting annoyed at the meanderings of over-paid television pundits, and fantasizing over what I would have said had I been part of whatever news panel. 

Ever since I was a political science student, the news had been sold to me as a good thing; a way to stay engaged on the important matters of the day. I sincerely believed that argument to be true, not realizing I was being conned by unscrupulous salespeople in the business of disguising entertainment as news. I was blinded to the fact that I was mindlessly scrolling through Guardian articles and CNN stories the same way other people mindlessly scroll through Twitter or Instagram. 

What I now realize—perhaps the most insidious aspect of pathological news consumption—is that I was convinced that I was spending my time productively. Many of the things I saw were interesting, which in my mind equated to me actually learning something useful.

It only hit me when I finally turned the news off for an extended period of time: I don’t need to know how many people have the virus right this second. I’ve seen enough over the past four years to not have to know the latest in Trump’s cuckoo crazy clown-fest. I don’t have to concern myself with every preposterous thing people do to each other on the other side of the world, however much American media tries to persuade me that what goes on over there should matter to literally everyone. 

I still want to be informed, but there’s a line between productive information and inane preoccupation. Before I go anywhere near that line, I need to first spend time on myself. Enough time to feel happy. 

A rather large indoor chrysalis

With the news on hold, I decided to analyze what it was that actually made me happy. I identified three broad categories: taking care of my body, feeling a sense of progress in my hobbies, and learning new things. 

I would be out of my mind not to have those three things as part of my daily activities.

Now, before I even think about turning on the news, I make sure I have enough time in my day, every day, for all three categories. An hour of physical exercise. At least an hour of practice in one of my two main hobbies: writing and singing. At least an hour for either reading or watching a program that will teach me something (the news doesn’t count here; the amount of information I actually retain in the long term is negligible).

That may sound like a lot, but given that coronavirus has restricted my ability to travel and see other people, I actually have plenty of time to spare. It may also sound like I’m back to a routine, but I make sure to incorporate as much variety as I can into the way I exercise and practice my hobbies.

The results have been amazing. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in years. I’ve gotten better at my hobbies. I go to bed feeling satiated with life. All the while, I feel no culpability whatsoever for having maybe missed out on some mildly insightful thought piece, witty take-down, or juicy controversy. 

In a way, the pandemic has allowed me to weave my own little chrysalis. I feel like I’m on a path to emerge from this crisis transformed. By the end of this, I will be a better person physically, mentally and emotionally. All because isolation pushed me away from my ingrained patterns of behavior and toward the exploration of my own psyche. 

For years, I had been doing something that just wasn’t serving a positive purpose in my life. I won’t go so far as to thank the coronavirus, but let’s just say I’m glad I learned to stop worrying and turn off the news.

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